I’m writing you this letter because you still think I know something. In fact, you think I know everything. I would tell you that you’re mistaken, but you’ll come to that conclusion on your own in about 8-10 years.
At that point, you’ll think I know nothing.
Then I could tell you you’re mistaken too, but you’ll come to that conclusion on your own 8-10 years after that. At which time, you’ll know I’m just a guy. A guy who happens to be your dad. The one who occasionally gives you money but won’t let you move back into our house. But while we’re still in that magical place where you see me as a superhero, pit crew chief, doctor, pastor, and professional athlete, allow me to share a few words of wisdom with you. It’s important stuff, so pay attention.
No, I’m serious.
Put that down.
And get your finger out of your nose.
I mean it.
One… two… th-
OK. That’s more like it.
* Jake’s excited… Audrey? Not so much…
Today is your first day of school. Ever. For a short time, your success will not be measured in grades. Instead, you’ll know it’s been a good day when you come home exhausted, smelling of stale milk and kid sweat. It’s a beautiful thing. Enjoy it!
You’ll have some choices to make today. First things first, you’ll want to make some friends. My advice? Choose carefully. But don’t judge a book by its cover. The kid in the corner eating Elmer’s glue is probably the kind of friend who would give you the shirt off his back, the best thing in his lunchbox, and would tell you when you were about to do something stupid. He also wouldn’t rat you out when you did it anyway. That’s the kind of friend I hope you grow to be.
What about the kid who knows all of the cool new words for private parts?
He might be good for a few laughs. He might even teach you how to put a mirror on your shoe so you can look up Amy Clifton’s skirt. But beware. He’ll also try to rope you into the mix when he gets caught stealing a pack of Now & Laters at the Itty Bitty.
Again. Choose carefully. I know the kind of guy you are. You’ll know character when you see it.
While we’re on the subject, someday you and one of these new friends might decide it would be funny to bake chocolate chip cookies and put Kibbles n Bits in some of them. Then you’ll think it would be even funnier to play a joke and feed them to that weirdo in class who is always getting into trouble.
You’ll do it. And the other kids will laugh. Hard. But the weirdo kid won’t. He’ll play it off like it’s no big deal, but you’ll be able to tell by the way his smile doesn’t quite curl like it should that he’s crying inside. You’ll feel so bad about it later that you’ll eat one of those dog food cookies.
Just to try and make it right.
But it won’t work. You’ll have to do something harder. You’ll have to apologize in person. Right to his face. Tell him how horrible you were, and horrible you feel. And he’ll still be crying, inside and out. Because sometimes words can’t fix everything.
Trust me. It’s better to never make the cookies in the first place.
And one day, I’m not sure when, some adult is going to tell you, “It’s better to give than to receive.” Take this one to heart, because they are absolutely right. But please note the following exceptions to the rule. Sucker punches, atomic wedgies, and haircuts with safety scissors. With these, you should avoid both the giving and the receiving.
Also note that you will be measured from this day forward. We adults like to do that kind of thing. Makes us feel smarter, I guess. You’re a pretty sharp kid, so my guess is you’ll be put in the Red Robin Rockets reading group or something like that. But remember, just ‘cuz you’re there doesn’t make you any better than all the kids in the Brown Barn Swallow reading group. Trust me. There are Brown Barn Swallow groups all over this world, and sooner or later you’ll belong to one of them.
As you’ve probably already learned, Ms. Pilkinton is the one who hands out smiley faces. There are lots of Ms. Pilkintons in the world, too. I recommend that you always go for the smiley face, Jake. Not because Ms. Pilkinton likes it, but because it feels good to work hard and do the right thing. If you do this enough, you’ll build up a strong muscle called integrity. It’s right in the middle of your chest. You’ll need this muscle for the times when some other person who doesn’t smell like roses and cake (like Ms. Pilkinton does) offers you a smiley face to treat someone else unfairly. This is a tricky one, but you’ll know by then what’s a real smiley face, and what’s just a yellow circle with some dots and a curvy line.
And now for the most important thing of all.
Lots of ‘em.
But don’t make the same one twice.
You’ll learn more from your mistakes than you will during the 15,210 hours your little tush will be sitting in a classroom between now and your high school graduation. That’s what they call “growing up.”
(And, in case you’re wondering, I used math to perform the “tush in seat” calculation. Did it the old-fashioned way. Paper and pencil.)
Time to go now. You woke up forty minutes before your alarm clock went off this morning, fueled by a love of learning and a burning desire to break in your new, monogrammed backpack. I love how you get so excited about the little things in life. They always seem to bring you the most satisfaction. Paper airplanes. Stomping puddles. Lightning bugs. One day you’ll forget how cool these things are. And when that happens, I pray that God sends you a 48-pound savant filled with sage wisdom and corn syrup-laced snacks to remind you.
I love you, buddy,